Tag Archives: Mar Benham

Chrétiens d’Orient, 2000 Ans d’Histoire: A Major Exhibit in France

by Michael Peppard   |  ελληνικά

I spent over an hour there, in that small rotunda, about twenty feet across. Display cases of manuscripts in Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, and Armenian encircled me, the only one of the museum’s patrons to linger so long in that spot. The rest of the exhibit, outside this temporary cloister, was equally worthy of attentive study, but this room captured my senses and held me still. It was the music, played on a loop, that transfixed me: the Akathist hymn, the ancient prayer about the life of the Virgin Mary, resounded in Armenian, in Arabic, in Greek, in Syriac, and in Coptic. Choirs from each tradition sang their version of the hymn, a shared patrimony that emerged from Syria to inspire Orthodox Christian worship everywhere. On the wall near the entrance flashed full-size, high-resolution renderings of frescoes from medieval churches in Lebanon.  This installation was titled “Languages and Liturgy,” and it certainly felt liturgical to the senses. Only the incense was missing.

I needed the whole hour not only for the manuscripts, but also for the monumental icon of the Akathist hymn on display. Attributed to Youssef al-Musawwir of Aleppo, painted between 1650-67, and part of the famed collection of Georges Antaki, the icon’s panels depict the twenty-four strophes of the hymn, surrounding a central image of King David. The panels are labeled in Greek, while David holds a phylactery with text in Arabic. Though the Akathist is attributed to Romanos the Melodist, the icon portrays the Psalmist David as a divine guarantor of the icon’s revelatory authority about the Virgin Mary. And just as the Theotokos is central to Orthodox Christian prayer around the world, so also is she to this rotunda, in a small museum in northern France. Continue Reading…